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Following Broadway League President Charlotte St Martin’s comments about the value of understudy, standby, and swing performers, the theater community has rallied around their own to show their appreciation for the hardest working actors in the business.
In a perfectly timed demonstration of the crucial need for understudies, Broadway swing Kathy Voytko was called to replace leading lady Sutton Foster at Thursday evening’s performance of The Music Man with merely a few hours’ notice. Voytko, who is responsible for covering eight roles in the show, spent the afternoon preparing to take on the gargantuan role of Marian, originally written for famed soprano Barbara Cook’s impressive range and now tweaked to additionally include Foster’s advanced dancing talent.
As Voytko took her bow, leading actor Hugh Jackman addressed the audience to inform them of the feat they had just witnessed: “Kathy, when she turned up for work at twelve o’clock could have played any of eight roles, eight roles — it happened to be the leading lady!”
Jackman went on to underline the significance of understudies, standbys, and swings to the success of the production, which has just begun highly anticipated preview performances after a long pandemic delay. Calling the other swings — Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing, Daniel Patrick Russell and Maria Briggs — to the front of the stage, he stressed: “This is what’s unprecedented. It’s not only happening here, at The Winter Garden, but all over Broadway — this is a time we’ve never known. We’re in our fourth preview, we’re all just sort of learning. So, swings and understudies have not had a chance to learn, they watch from the corner of a room while we rehearse, while we get to practice over and over again — they just get to watch and write notes, and then, five hours before our performance they’re told, ‘you’re on — by the way, you’ve got a wig fitting, go!’ ”
Actor Katherine Winter was in the audience to capture the moment on video, adding:
“Swings are SAVING BROADWAY! They are the reason why the industry is surviving. Oh, and Kathy was BRILLIANT!!!!”
It would seem that Jackman agreed, adding, “So, all of these people here, the swings — and I’m emotional because it humbles me — the courage, the brilliance, the dedication, the talent — the swings, the understudies, they are the bedrock of Broadway!”
This is certainly the case with The Music Man, an expensively outfitted revival in which lost ticket revenue for canceled performances would be significant. As productions and their actors continue to communicate the value of swings, standbys, and understudies to a show’s artistic and financial success, it is the hope of the theater community that this translates to increased support from industry leaders.